The Gift of Music Part 3

My twelve-year-old daughter Elanna and I recently watched the remake of Mean Girls. In the original, Lindsay Lohan played the main character, Cady. In the remake, she was the judge at the math competition,
awarding Cady her prize. This shift from the protagonist to a side character is a great metaphor for the life of a parent. Your time as a star has gone by. It’s all about the kid now.

I live inside the remake and see the familiar plot unfold from the perspective of a side character. There are days when I want to yell “Stop!” and rip up the script. I crave to walk up to the director and
shout, “This didn’t work thirty years ago. Why are we doing it again?” 

It’s not my place to tell the director how the movie should go. The main actress is ready to for the scene. The spotlight is on her and she’s reveling in the moment. I step aside to watch the disaster unfold. Just
when I prepare to say, “I told you!” … Nothing. The scene changes and the conflict resolves in a way I didn’t foresee. “That wasn’t in the original,” I mumble, but no one cares.  

When Elanna started home daycare at three, the director Roza explained that she’s also a music teacher.  Elanna would get to sing and dance at the concert.

The performance exceeded all my expectations. All eight children sang in tune. Each one had a solo. My daughter shined, and so did the other kids. 


“How is that possible?” I asked Roza. "How can they all be musical?" 

She smiled. “Children are extremely teachable. Once you find the right approach, they all show musical ability.” 

My mind reeled.

Over the next few years, Roza called me often. “Elanna must have piano and voice lessons. She is gifted.”

 I would throw up my hands. “She refuses. I can’t make her.” 

“Try another teacher. She’ll thank you later. Music will make her better at math.” Oh, boy. The last argument never fails to hit the mark with Soviet parents.

Here I was, living the scenario my grandma feared. I was raising a talented child who had no desire to practice piano or learn songs. A child great at singing but not good at sitting. 

I dragged my daughter to the lessons. I pleaded. I bribed. Then the pandemic started, and the lessons were cancelled. Like it happened with me, Elanna quickly forgot everything she learned. This time, the script
didn’t waiver from the original.

By the time Elanna entered fourth grade, the authorities lifted the pandemic restrictions. The school sent a letter inviting children to choose an instrument and join the band or orchestra. I had to read that letter twice. 

The Gift of music

Children could choose their instruments? Insane! What would happen if a girl with fat lips asks for the flute, or the tone-deaf boy picks the violin? The quote from “The Giver” played in my head: “What if they choose wrong?” What if my child chooses wrong?

“Noooo! The rehearsals start at 7a.m.” Elanna whined. “I’m not getting up early.”

That was her choice. My daughter had every chance to learn music I was never given, and she refused to put in the effort. I let it go, feeling like I’ve failed her and myself.

A year later, Elanna joined a ukulele club. She learned to tune her instrument to the pitch-perfect sound of her voice. She is now taking private lessons. Her practice routine is five minutes a week. Yet somehow she progresses, and her teacher praises her. She also loves to sing. In Japanese. 

The script flipped again. I have a musical kid with skills I don’t know how to hone. Songs from anime and a Hawaiian instrument were not in the original. I step back into my side character role and let the young
star run the show. Somehow, she knows what she’s doing.


I don’t pressure Elanna to restart piano lessons. I don’t live vicariously through her. I have my characters for that.

Readers ask me how I create my characters. It’s hard to explain. Shadows appear, start talking, start moving. The protagonists take shape. Overtime, I give them back stories. Vulnerabilities, traumas. They
become complex. As the story unfolds, they transform and become better people.

Unlike my protagonists, I was never a doctor or a musician. But I know what it’s like to be bullied, overlooked, or dismissed. I’ve lost parents and friends, recovered from illnesses, and given
birth. When I write, experiences return like a flood. I relive the emotions and decide how the story would go. 

When I wrote the scene where Abigail played for an audience of wealthy people, I was basing it on my own piano recital. All the mistakes, the nerves, the panic. The triumph! And because it’s a novel, Abigail can do the things I’ve never done and inspire other characters to achieve more. All thanks to the gift of music I was originally denied but eventually gave myself. 

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